Jailed Kurdish, Turkish journalists write
for freedom in Turkey
ISTANBUL, Dozens of Turkish journalists
writing for the Tutuklu Gazete newspaper have very
personal reasons to be concerned about media freedom
in their EU-candidate country. They are all in jail.
From prison cells across Turkey, they contributed
articles to a special edition protesting against
restrictions on freedom of expression which have
drawn criticism from the United States and Europe.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced
concern about the issue on a visit to Istanbul this
month, saying it was not in Turkey's interest to be
A report by the Council
of Europe, an intergovernmental pan-European human
rights body, has called for urgent measures to
address a "particularly worrying" situation for
Writing from jail in the southeastern Kurdish city
of Diyarbakir, Kurdish newspaper editor
says it is particularly tough for journalists who
write about a 27-year-old Kurdish separatist
insurgency in which more 40,000 people have died.
"Journalists in this country have been put in a
situation where they virtually can't practice their
profession. They always feel the cold breath of the
authorities on their neck," he wrote in Tutuklu
Gazete, published as a free supplement in leftist
Turkish newspapers on Sunday.
Kursun was sentenced to 166 years in jail for
membership of the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party
(PKK), viewed by the U.S. and EU as a terrorist
group. He, like other journalists, says he was only
convicted for articles in his newspaper.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan rejects such an
argument, saying journalists are not in jail because
of what they wrote. They are generally prosecuted
under widely implemented laws against membership of
terrorist groups or spreading their propaganda.
Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan's government
has earned praised internationally for political
reforms aimed at bringing Turkey in line with
European Union political norms,www.ekurd.netand for liberalising
an economy that now ranks among the fastest-growing
in the world.
However, the ruling AK Party, which polled 50
percent of the vote to win a third term in power in
parliamentary elections in June, also faces
accusations of trying to tame the media and smother
opposition to its power.
Turkey has fallen to 138th out of 178 countries
reviewed for the World Press Freedom Index by
Reporters without Borders, a media freedom pressure
group, from 101st in 2007 due to the proliferation
Dozens of Turkish journalists writing for the Tutuklu Gazete newspaper have very
personal reasons to be concerned about media freedom
in their EU-candidate country.
Vedat Kursun, former Editor-in-Chief of Azadiya
Welat, the only Kurdish-language newspaper in
OTTOMAN ABOLITION OF
Tutuklu Gazete's publication date of July 24 was
symbolic. It marked the anniversary of the official
abolition of censorship in the Ottoman Empire under
Sultan Abdul Hamid II at the time of the Young Turks
revolution in 1908.
"Resistance to Censorship," the newspaper proclaimed
in a front-page headline above a picture of people
protesting against media restrictions at a
demonstration attended by thousands in Istanbul
earlier this year.
The Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), which organised
the project, says the paper is part of a year-old
campaign to secure the release of 70 jailed
journalists and prompt changes in the anti-terrorism
"If journalists are prosecuted on charges of being
terrorists due to their professional activities, it
means there must be a mistake in those laws and they
must be changed," TGS Chairman Ercan Ipekci told
"We hope public opinion will be influenced by these
articles and that this wave of public opinion will
hit parliament and that it will make the necessary
changes in the laws," he said.
The organisers wrote to all the jailed journalists
about the project and published articles from 39 of
them. For now, there are no plans for further
editions of the paper.
COUP PLOT ALLEGATIONS
While charges of links to the PKK predominate in the
prosecution of reporters, some of the journalists in
jail are among hundreds of people detained over a
series of alleged coup plots against Erdogan's
Among them is the Kanalturk television channel
founder Tuncay Ozkan, who has been in jail since
September 2008 charged with seeking to overthrow the
government in a trial which is still continuing. He
says his opposition to the ruling AK Party is the
reason for his prosecution.
"I was jailed for conducting my profession without
compromise, for exercising my right to freedom of
thought and dissidence," Ozkan said in an article
written from Silivri prison, near Istanbul in
TGS says journalists are the subject of some 4,000
investigations. Many of those are for articles about
the alleged anti-government plots of the shadowy "Ergenekon"
network since the investigation was launched four
years ago. Some 2,000 cases have been opened against
Well known journalist Ahmet Slk was detained earlier
this year. The co-author of a book about Ergenekon,
Slk faces a jail sentence of up to four years on a
charge of "violating the secrecy of an
Turkey has long faced criticism from campaigners
over its human rights record. Writers including
Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk and slain
Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink were
prosecuted under laws restricting freedom of
A Reporters Without Borders report in June called on
Turkish authorities to boost the status of
journalistic principles in the law to counterbalance
the protection of legal confidentiality, state
security and personal privacy.
"A legislative straitjacket continues to stifle
journalists," the report said.
"Reporting of some topics is still routinely
punished by the courts. Journalists are arrested and
tried for doing their job or expressing an opinion,"
By Daren Butler - Reuters
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